One year we traveled to Boston MA as a youth group representing St. Paul’s. Our job was to join the homeless at the Eucharist on Boston Commons and then serve them the lunch we prepared for them. Now many of the homeless on Boston Commons are plagued with mental illness and a variety of other diseases. They number in the hundreds. During the Eucharist, there are priests assisting who circle around the group and if a person suffering from mental illness approaches teens, they are there to gently handle the situation. I became fiercely protective of our kids and my eyes never left them....”they can’t drink from the same cup”. Okay, each person has their own little cup. “Whew! Good”. But “the passing of the peace” is coming up – oh no, they can’t really touch them, what about disease?” Was I even paying attention or praying or just worrying?
As the service moved on, I heard the homeless during the prayers of the people; praying not for themselves but for children who are homeless in the subways beneath us – and atthat moment I felt the earth shake a bit as a subway roared by. During the interactive sermon on “love”, I heard them tell stories about what love is. One said that on a cold winter morning, he sat on a bench holding a man who would die in his arms-frozen to death. Love was sharing ½ a sandwich when you don’t know when your next one will come.
Suddenly during that sermon, I was transformed. The people gathered around us were God’s children too, they were loved as surely as all of us and they believed and prayed just like we do every single Sunday.
And then came “The Peace of the Lord be with you” and I looked around and how could I not want to pass the peace of the Lord. There was a little sparkle in some of their eyes, sadness and loneliness in others but they welcomed us to THEIR church. The peace they passed around was so special and genuine. Given different circumstances, they could be any one of us. I met God in each of them.